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REVIEWS: Cinema

STRAWBERRY LINE TIME Film Review: Madrid’s women come crashing and shouting into a post Franco world – Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at the Roxy

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

Telephone machines are bashed, there’s lots of clicking and crunching on the hard plastics of 1980s’ dial up phones and Madrid apparently has only one taxi driver with badly dyed blonde hair played by Guillermo Montesinos.

Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s 1988 screwball black comedy is an enjoyably crazy film although not quite as crazy as the larger than life characters whose unpredictable behaviour keeps you guessing as to where the story is going. Is it really about the fickleness of modern relationships or is it as much about the freeing up of society in a post Franco Iberia?

The opening titles give a clue: this is about how women in the 1980s are supposed to behave – or rather were supposed to behave. Lipstick, nylons and designer dresses out of a catalogue – when they wanted to be themselves instead. The main protagonist Carmen Maura as Pepa Marcos is a free spirited celebrity recognised from her role in TV where ever she goes. The story is about how her frustrations boil over when her somewhat aged lover Ivan (Fernando Guillen) dumps her. It gets complicated when she meets his son Carlos (Antonio Banderas) and is caught up in her friend Candela’s relationships with terrorists played with an enjoyable skittishness by Maria Barranco.

There are some wonderfully chaotic scenes which include a fire, drugged policemen and an hilarious attempted suicide and some high octane arguments as the characters rattle out their words like machine guns. Rossy de Palma as snooty Marisa gave an outstanding performance with a face that could make house prices rise or fall depending whether she approved of the property or not – and she was in good company with the resourceful Carlos who served an unusual version of gazpacho to the cops.

Every character was so brilliantly comically drawn such as Loles Leon the gossipy receptionist and Paulina Morales as Pepa’s rude lawyer.

Strong colours, fast and hilarious dialogue and more arguments than in an episode of Coronation Street or East Enders gives this take on Spanish life a feel of a society moving from a past into a vibrant present. Funny and also a feeling that Spain is barely a glass of sherry away from Axbridge in a world that is shrinking by the day – despite what some Brexiteers with their anti-European attitudes would have us to believe.

Harry Mottram

The film was appropriately introduce in fluent Spanish by Verity Mann.

The next film is the sequel to Pot Luck, and is called Russian Dolls, showing on April 7th.

For more details visit www.axbridgeroxy.org.uk

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

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The teacher and the student in Things To Come or
L’avenir (2016)

She has everything and she has nothing (but at least she has a cat)

Film review: Things to Come (L’avenir) . The Roxy Cinema, Axbridge.

Pandora the grumpy black cat is the unexpected star of a study of a life in crisis in Mia Hanson Love’s Franco-German 2016 movie Things to Come.

Philosophy teacher Natalie’s existential crisis deepens as her theoretical ideas are challenged by striking students that disrupt her classes, her husband has an affair and her mother dies. To add complications she is left to look after Pandora the cat and is pushed out of her job by modernisers.

Natalie played with an understated naturalism by Isabelle Huppert never knowingly cracks a smile until she picks up her grandson or briefly flirts with her handsome ex-student Fabien played by Roman Kolinka.

Natalie looks to the future without her husband and mum

She keeps a straight (if pained) face throughout her trials as her gone to seed and seriously pissed off husband Heinz (André Marcon) leaves her for a dark haired Spanish woman – much to her surprise and anger. Her supressed rage is neatly symbolised by her crushing his gift of flowers into a bin which in a way encapsulates much of the repressed emotions of the characters. Is Fabian just a beautiful falsehood of an intellectual? Was Natalie’s life-long promotion of philosophical ideas just a front? Is she really just another woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown as things fall apart? Or is she like us all as life moves on and those once precious touchstones of a time are cast aside?

It’s all gone wrong in her marriage

The beautiful settings, the enviable bourgeois lifestyles and stylish living are in contrast to the misery and the disappointment of failing relationships and broken dreams. Where is Natalie’s life going? Is she about to elope with a man 30 years younger? Or is she to be the constant guardian of a grumpy black cat – one of the moments in the film which are laugh-out-loud funny.

A film about new beginnings and of how life moves on to a new phase despite the painful transition from a past that once seemed so complete, but are now just bitter sweet memories symbolised by Natalie taking the news of her mother’s demise ankle deep in mud at the Brittany holiday home of her soon to be ex-husband’s family.

The final scene is at Christmas as she re-evaluates her life – and cooks chicken for the family

Top marks for Denise Lenoir’s cinematography and Huppert’s ability to take it all on the chin with only the odd momentary melt down. The critics called it a classic piece of French cinema but with the stayed emotions it could be just as easily British. Keeping it all together seems a universal thing.

The first in the Roxy’s new season of post Brexit European Film Club offerings was introduced by Nico Mann in French as he expressed gratitude and hope for the future as the cinema was packed for the European movie. Not a Brexiteer in sight.

Harry Mottram

The next movie in the European Film Club’s calendar is appropriately the Spanish drama Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de ‘Nervios’ or Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown on March 3. 2020.

The film was reviewed at the Axbridge Roxy Community Cinema. For more details of their films visit www.axbridgeroxy.org.uk

For details for the work of the journalist Harry Mottram visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

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Oleg Ivenko’s portrayal of Rudolf Nureyev in The White Crow is austere and unsmiling

A Cold War episode revealing the unsmiling and single-minded selfish ballet genius Rudolf Nureyev complete with a gripping climax (with brilliant dancing – contrasting with the stifling authoritarianism of the Soviet Union)

The White Crow. The Electric Cinema, Birmingham

Perhaps it was that freezing Siberian childhood as Oleg Ivenko’s portrayal of Rudolf Nureyev in The White Crow is austere and unsmiling. He does make a joke with his recently bereaved friend Clara Saint that his dancing is more effective for her depression than Prozac but in an unsmiling performance the main impression of Nureyev’s character is of a man with a single-mindedness of purpose. And that purpose was to be a creative classical ballet dancer.

At over two hours it is too long with scenes and a story that could have been shortened as it is too slow. You find yourself wishing it would speed up to its climax in France and Nureyev’s defection.

What Ralph Fiennes does very well is to give the story layers of visual revelation to show the background to Nureyev’s life and moments of inspiration for his work as a choreographer and artistic director. Set in the present tense set in Paris ahead of his defection the story spans life in the Soviet Union and 1960s France offering a contrast between rich and poor, Communism and Capitalism, artistic freedom and stifling authoritarianism.

The dancing and in particular the practice sequences are brilliant, in part due to their authenticity as the director used dancers as actors instead of the other way around. Some critics have spoken of the acting as wooden – a cheap shot – as they knew Oleg Ivenko was a first time movie actor. All dancers are also actors – a point missed – and Ivenko was more than adequate for the role. Sergei Polunin as Nureyev’s Kirov colleague Yuri Soloviev gives strong support, as does Adèle Exarchopoulos as socialite and rescuer Clara Saint, and Ralph Fiennes not only directs but as Nureyev’s dance teacher Alexander Pushkin, but has to turn a blind eye to his wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova) having an affair with the dancer under his nose.

Based on Julie Kavanagh’s biography of Nureyev, adapted by David Hare, the film reveals a selfish, highly focused and ambitious dancer who knows he’s a star. His lack of charm and rudeness to those he loved would be enough to make us be repelled but his dramatic escape into the arms of the French police gives the film an exciting climax and was easily the most gripping part of what in essence captures a revealing episode in the Cold War.

Harry Mottram

Reviewed: April 6, 2019

The Electric is a cinema opened in Station Street in 1909, showing its first silent film on 27th December of that year, and is now the oldest working cinema in the country. It predates its namesake, the Electric Cinema in Notting Hill, London, by around two months.

https://www.theelectric.co.uk/

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Staggering around the streets of Berlin in a boozy thriller leaves me with a hangover

Thriller: Laia Costa as the titular character Victoria

Thriller: Laia Costa as the titular character Victoria

Victoria. Roxy Cinema, Axbridge.

You spend a lot of time in lifts, cars and stumbling along pavements in Sebastian Schipper’s 2015 thriller Victoria. And there’s so much boozing that by the end I’m sure I had a hangover coming on. Played out in real time (so it is claimed in one seamless shot) the drama as a result includes a lot of dull sections while the characters talk nonsense or flirt or booze. And talking of booze the staggering around drunk late at night scenes all add unnecessary length. In short the concept is noble but it needed an editor to make it more taut, tense and tight.

Despite the sluggish and confusing start the actors create believable characters and situations on Victoria’s drunken night out. Laia Costa as the titular character throws up a perfectly good job in a Berlin café to become the only real hard nut in a robbery where the criminal gang fall prey to their own stupidity. Using largely a hand held camera the director propels the audience into the action as though we have tagged along with Victoria, bobbing and ducking in the shoot-out and swaying about in the drug and drink induced scenes.

Despite the one shot concept and realist viewpoint the moral behind the plot is simple and universal: bad things happen to those who commit crime. They may start off with a bit of light-hearted shoplifting but it ends with in kidnapping, violence and death.

For those who don’t like sub-titles or don’t speak German there’s no problem as the body language tells you everything and the characters speak in broken English and German and even snatches of Spanish. If they can muddle through and rob a bank without more a few shrugs and snatches of teutonic-anglo-saxon – then so can you. The climax is gripping, grim and gruesome – and just about worth the slow build up.

Harry Mottram

Three Stars

The film was reviewed at the Axbridge Roxy Community Cinema. For more details of their films visit www.axbridgeroxy.org.uk

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Woman in trouble: Scarlett Johansson as DeeAnna Moran

Woman in trouble: Scarlett Johansson as DeeAnna Moran

RAPSCALLION MAGAZINE – Film Review: brilliant affectionate send-up of Hollywood in the early 1950s by the Coen Brothers – screened at the Axbridge Roxy

Hail Ceasar! Axbridge Roxy.

Eddie Mannix beats the Romans, the Romans beat their slaves, and the slaves continue to live on zero hour contracts and are exploited by the bosses. Or something like that. You certainly can’t trust an extra if they are a Red. Especially when they kidnap a Roman and extract $100,000 from the moguls of Hollywood.

The Coen Brothers’ (Joel and Ethan) movie Hail Ceasar! takes us back to the early 1950s and the world of Hollywood where their protagonist Catholic guilt obsessed Eddie Mannix worked as a fixer, producer and professional cover-upper. Except the Coen Brothers turn him into a hero who tries his best to keep the movie industry ticking over whilst resisting an easier job in the aviation business. What a pack of nonsense should you check out the real history of Mannix. But at the same time what an enjoyable romp through the dying days of Hollywood before the onset of TV.

Geezer: Josh Brolin as fixer Mannix

Geezer: Josh Brolin as fixer Mannix

Hail Ceasar! is pure satire as it pokes fun at all things lit and filmed by the movie industry of the time. Looking his age, George Clooney is the heroic idiot taken in by the ridiculously moustached Communist circle at the beach side house. Ralph Fiennes as the exasperated director Laurence Laurentz and Tida Simpson as the twin gossip columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker excel in their facial contortions, exasperated body language and elegant hats and cravats. And then there’s Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) the Roy Rogers parody who rescues Clooney from the Commies in a tightly packed plot filled with excellent set pieces including a Gene Kelly naval tribute.

On the town: Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) looked like Gene Kelly

On the town: Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum) looked like Gene Kelly

So many beautifully work scenes, so many fabulous costumes and so many brilliantly observed slices of Hollywood in an age long gone. Just don’t believe the story and accept it for what it is, an affectionate send-up of Hollywood.

Harry Mottram

Four stars

More at www.harrymottram.co.uk and on Facebook, Twitter and God knows where else!

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The Talented Mr Ripley: love Rome in saturated colour and Gwyneth Paltrow’s coats but it’s all about being Simon

The-Talented-Mr-Ripley

The Talented Mr Ripley

I was on my way to the bus stop when I bumped into Simon. “Hi Simon,” I said, “how’s it going?” “Good,” replied Simon looking slightly startled, “new job and things are fine.” “College seems such a long time ago now,” I said, “I’ve just started a new job as well, in Queens’ Square. Still better get going, late for the bus, we should meet up one lunchtime.” “Nice idea,” he said and we parted. I walked ten yards up the road and thought he knew that I knew that he wasn’t the Simon I knew at college but seeing my initial conviction decided that perhaps he was Simon even though he wasn’t.

Belief. If you believe hard enough anything seems possible and so it was in The Talented Mr Ripley. Except in the Academy Award nominated 1999 film directed by Anthony Minghella, Matt Damon as the eponymous Ripley (me) and Jude Law was Dickie Greenleaf (Simon). I’m not sure who was Gwyneth Paltrow but like the film the moment with the non-Simon Simon, conviction that you are someone else is everything.

It was great to the Spanish Steps in Rome without thousands of holiday makers sitting down exhausted by the constant battle to every ruin in three days and tired looking men selling wilting roses in the suspense-filled thriller. And the saturated colour of a recreated 1950s Italy along with the numerous half-misunderstood conversations that slowly strip away Mr Ripley’s disguise were equally enjoyable. But the real star was the premise itself: with enough confidence it is possible to believe someone is Simon. Or rather Dickie Greenleaf, as Ripley attempts to steal Jude Law’s identity.

Ron Trilby

5 Stars

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Parents are such an inconvenience (especially when they drop dead) in Ozu’s daughter-from-hell story

Happy trio: Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama with Noriko, their kind daugher-in-law

Happy trio: Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama with Noriko, their kind daugher-in-law

Tokyo Story (1953)

She’s bossy, selfish and out for herself. And if you drop dead she’ll go through your stuff in an instance to see what she can have for free. Meek and mild Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama didn’t deserve Shige Kaneko as a daughter.

Daughter from hell: Haruko Sugimura is less than welcoming to her parents

Daughter from hell: Haruko Sugimura is less than welcoming to her parents

In Yasujirō Ozu’s 1953 movie Tokyo Story the elderly couple visit their grown-up children in a simple but symbolic story of unhappy family life set in post war Japan. Death camps, torture, mass rape and genocide are not mentioned by a generation that knew all about the horrors. Instead the wartime generation are too busy with their lives to think about the past but they can’t quite exorcise the ghosts of World War II along with memories of Hirayama’s second son Shōji who died in the conflict. Shūkichi and Tomi urge his widow and their daughter-in-law the saintly Noriko to remarry, and to hide her wedding photograph and pretend her husband didn’t exist. But the war creeps back into this portrayal of post war Tokyo through the subtle symbolism of a collective amnesia. It’s replaced by a booming and busy Japan that rings to the sound of construction and industry. The trains run on time and the city is alive with cars, telephones, shoppers and workers.

Unhappy family: the story is about a visit of an elderly couple to Tokyo

Unhappy family: the story is about a visit of an elderly couple to Tokyo

Retired couple Shūkichi and Tomi Hirayama visit their grown-up children in the capital, but they are disappointed that they are considered an inconvenience by their offspring and so after a couple of excursions decide to go home. Why they’d want to visit the ghastly Shige is a mystery as she makes it clear they are only welcome for about ten minutes and after that are in the way. Her grumpy husband isn’t much better and their spoilt kids make awkward moments even more excruciating. It’s compulsive viewing as the embarrassing moments pile up. Only Noriko their daughter-in-law and widow of Shōji is kind and attentive, representing a vision of perfection: if only she could have been their real daughter.

Busy city: the war is forgotten in booming Tokyo

Busy city: the war is forgotten in booming Tokyo

On the way home Tomi takes ill and dies – another inconvenience for the family. Exasperated that they must give up more time the selfish grown-up children attend the funeral in bad grace and the daughter from hell helps herself to her late mother’s silk kimonos before jumping on the first train back to Tokyo.

Angel face: the saintly Noriko is the saving grace of the family as she helps the elderly couple with warmth and good grace

Angel face: the saintly Noriko is the saving grace of the family as she helps the elderly couple with warmth and good grace

Viewed via Ozu’s knee-high interior camera angle each scene is like a carefully composed painting in which the trials and tribulations of universal family life are played out – along with a subtext of ‘don’t mention the war’ – Japan has moved on.

Tokyo Story (1953) Directed by Yasujirō Ozu. Written by Kōgo Noda and Yasujirō Ozu. Cinematography by Yūharu Atsuta. With Chishū Ryū as Shūkichi Hirayama, Chieko Higashiyama as Tomi Hirayama, Setsuko Hara as Noriko Hirayama, Haruko Sugimura as Shige Kaneko, Sō Yamamura as Kōichi Hirayama, and Kuniko Miyake as Fumiko Hirayama. 136 mins. Review: Harry Mottram. Five stars.

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